The Folk School Alliance Newsletter
A project of Folk Education Association of America
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Folk Education Association of America Board of Directors 

Jennifer Rose Ramsay
     Escobar, Chair

Mary Cattani, Vice Chair,
    Newsletter Editor
Dawn Murphy, Secretary
Christopher Spicer, Treasurer
Kimberly Coburn
Jerry Jackson
Marilyn Jackson
Geraldine Johnson

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Folk School Alliance

news | spring 2019

Welcome to the Folk School Alliance (FSA). 

Please email us:

if you have comments, news to share through our newsletter or would like us to feature your organization!

In this issue:

Invitation to the International Folk High School Summit in Denmark

Folk School Features:
- John C. Campbell Folk School
- Cobscook Community Learning Center

New Folk Schools:
Hearth Folk School
Turkeyfoot Folk School

Film Review: Jens Jensen, The Living Green

Highlander Research and Education Center: Continuing the Work in the Face of Tragedy

News from the Board: 
- Welcoming Two New Board Members
Invitation to the International Folk High School Summit in Denmark

Dear American Folk School Alliance, 

I am writing to you, as International Consultant to the Association of Folk High Schools in Denmark, which is celebrating its’ 175th anniversary with an International Folk High School Summit in Denmark in September 2019.  The Summit will be held at Grundtvig’s Folk High School, north of Copenhagen, Denmark,  from Monday , Sept. 23 to Saturday morning, Sept. 28.  The purpose of the Summit is to gather international folk high school practitioners, promotors and researchers to take initial steps towards an International Folk High School Alliance – consisting of peoples educators and educational initiatives resting on N.F.S. Grundtvig’s educational ideas.

We are very interested in current growth in the number of folk schools in USA inspired by the Danish folk high school tradition, and we look forward to your presence at our meeting.  The first part of the program focuses on the Danish Folk High School, with several Folk High School visits. In the second half,  we will explore and develop concrete ideas for  the making of a new internation­al folk high school alliance.

Please help distribute this information. I hope that representatives from both the board and various folk schools will take part in the Summit. For details of the program, please consult the
web page for the Summit.
Very sincerely yours,

Sara Skovborg Mortensen
International consultant
The Association of Folk High Schools in Denmark

Folk School Features:

John C. Campbell Folk School

I Sing Behind the Plow

One of the oldest and best-established folk schools in the United States, the John C. Campbell Folk School, also known simply as “The Folk School,” in Brasstown, North Carolina, is also one of the most influential in today’s growing folk school movement. Founded in 1925 by Olive Dame Campbell, the widow of noted educator John C. Campbell, and by Marguerite Butler Bidstrup, the school today occupies a 300-acre campus, and was named a Historic District in 1983 by the National Register of Historic Places. The school campus includes 17 studios, history museum, craft shop, nature trails, lodging, campground, and dining hall. Last year Campbell welcomed almost 7,000 students to its many week-long and weekend classes.

The school was originally founded with the hope that the crafts, techniques, and tools used by the people of the Southern Appalachians in everyday life could be taught and preserved. The model of the Danish  Folkehøjskole (folk high school) and its role in the transformation of the countryside of Denmark into a vibrant, creative force, was a major inspiration, as well. Olive and Marguerite returned from an extensive tour of Scandinavian folk high schools, with a mission to enrich rural life in the Southern Appalachians and preserve its culture.

Today the school is a nonprofit adult educational organization whose mission is to provide experiences in non-competitive learning and community life that are joyful and enlivening. The Folk School offers week-long and weekend classes year-round in traditional and contemporary arts. These classes include a broad array of craft and hands-on, creative areas: blacksmithing, music, dance, cooking, gardening, nature studies, photography, carving, storytelling, writing. Adults from all over the United States and abroad travel to the school to attend weeklong and weekend workshops. The school also holds a regular concert series and community dances, engaging the community around it through the many local bands and dance groups that participate.   

The week-long class at Campbell runs from Sunday afternoon, through Saturday morning. The typical day has the structure of a Danish folk school day, beginning with Morning Song, and ending with dance and music, reading by writers, tales of storytellers and craft demonstrations. By the time the weekends, participants have become friends, and fond farewells include the promise of future meetings.

Cobscook Community Learning Center (CCLC)
A living room conversation in rural Downeast Maine about the nature of learning and community is what spurred the 1999 founding of the Cobscook Community Learning Center (CCLC). Since then, the CCLC has established itself as a vital rural education hub and resource for individual and community development, building upon principles and practices of social ecology, and Indigenous, popular, folk, and experiential education. Its mission is to create responsive educational opportunities that strengthen personal, community, and global well-being. 

With roots in the folk school model, CCLC’s twenty years of programming has offered dynamic, place-based learning opportunities for lifelong learners with diverse backgrounds. A woman in a neighboring town recently took her first pottery class at CCLC. She had wanted to learn how to make pottery since she was a young girl making messy pots out of clay from the local beach but never had the access or resources to learn how to make a pot that would last. When she started looking for an opportunity to enrich her son’s homeschool curriculum, she turned to the CCLC where a scholarship allowed her whole family to take a pottery class, achieving something on her childhood bucket list and enriching her son’s education all at once. “So many of us in this region are lifelong learners,” she said, “and CCLC provides the opportunity to expand and enrich that tendency by providing a richness and diversity of educational options to choose from.”

Every May, a University of Maine wildlife field survey course bases itself at the CCLC for a two week immersive learning opportunity. They base themselves at the CCLC because they find that the facilities and setting are unique in the state of Maine and that the diverse ecosystems in proximity to the campus are particularly valuable to these students’ professional and personal development. CCLC also hosts regular yoga teacher training workshops, community music circles and programs, theater and writing groups, retreats and workshops for educators, arts immersion courses, and a food security series that has taught fruit tree grafting and seed-saving.

While traditional skill-sharing and providing a setting for immersive, experiential learning opportunities are core to CCLC’s community programs, they also have two other program divisions that are similarly rooted in the grassroots, community-driven model of folk schools. The Cobscook Experiential Program for High School Students, created at the request of area superintendents and celebrated by parents and students alike, is a public school option made possible through close collaboration Calais School District and CCLC. Students come to life through its place-based, hands-on learning community model. Students make electric guitars, go on wilderness trips, and participate in aquaculture and marine research projects. TREE: Transforming Rural Experience in Education, is an educational initiative that fosters whole-child, trauma-informed learning environments in rural public schools. TREE is ushering in deep community-wide healing and opening pathways to engagement for all children in our partner schools, but also for the adults in the schools and for the parents and family members as well.

The Folk Schools were established with the long view towards community health and vitality in the midst of enormous change and challenging times.  They were founded upon the belief that by creating access to opportunities for deep engagement with arts, culture, inquiry, and experience, the creative solutions of the day would emerge.  This spirit is the one that has inspired community members from easternmost Maine to establish Cobscook Community Learning Center as a hub for enrichment and innovation.  We are honored to be a member of Association for World Education and of the Folk School Alliance. Please contact Retreats and Community Programs Coordinator, Daphne Loring at or 207-733-2233, to learn more or to arrange a visit.

New Folk Schools:

Hearth Folk School
Sebastopol, Sonoma County, CA 

Hearth is a brand new folk school in the beautiful Sonoma Valley of Northern California which has just offered its first course in April 2019,  a bird watching series “Get to know the birds.”  It will be followed through the summer and into fall by courses in bowl turning, fermentation, axe and knife carving, studying snakes, willow basket making, and Hosigaki, the Japanese art of drying persimmons.  

Founders Raleigh Campbell and Nick LaHaise,  think of Hearth as aligned with the traditional Danish folkehojskole:  “We are an alternative educational path, one that is collaborative, noncompetitive, experiential and holistic.”  Here  people come together to cultivate personal and cultural resilience through learning traditional and contemporary skills that connect deeply to “yourself, your place on the earth, and your community.”   

Hearth Folk School is also for the community, and is meant to provide a home for empowering local craftspeople, providing a hub through which they can offer their classes and truly find right-livelihood. Hearth Folk School is where teachers and students get to connect, create, and learn from one-another.   While the search for a facility of their own goes on, they are using appropriate locations and the resources of the community to stage their classes.


Why the name Turkeyfoot? Turkeyfoot prairie grass, or big bluestem, is a tall prairie grass native to Iowa that has three long finger-like seed heads that are said to look like a turkey's foot.  What you see above the ground is only one-third of the grass.  The rest is an incredibly deep root system under ground.  Historically, much of Iowa was made up of tall-grass prairie -- a bridge of sorts between the forests of the east and high plains of the west. Now, only one tenth of one percent of Iowa's prairies remain.  

Turkeyfoot Folk School was created by a small group of friends who were fascinated by the concept of a folk school and dreamed of how awesome it would be if there was one in Iowa City.  Incorporated in January 2019 by Carolyn Buckingham, the first official event was held in April 2019 — a Star Party at Harvest Preserve, attended by an awestruck group of stargazers who learned from a professor of astrophysics at the Uni. of Iowa. The first weekend in May saw a foraging and camp cooking workshop, to be followed by a camping gear workshop, a basic salve making class, a fishing and cooking clinic, moon hikes, and participation at Earth Fest. 

At Turkeyfoot Folk School, the mission is to promote community, conservation, and creativity through the teaching of traditional arts and crafts, and practical life and outdoor skills, bringing people together in the community to share experiences, to inspire and empower individuals of all ages and backgrounds, and to have fun. Participants and attendees will walk away with a new skill or ability, or be inspired to craft and create, and their respect for the natural world that sustains all of us will be rooted and continue to grow.  

While the search for a brick-and-mortar location continues, Turkeyfoot takes advantage of the many beautiful spaces community members, city, county, and state parks have to offer.  For more information, check out the website at and Facebook page that regularly posts about upcoming events.  Questions? Email or call 319-214-3244. 

Film Review
Jens Jensen, The Living Green, is a delightful one hour film about the founder of The Clearing Folk School, one of the oldest folk schools in the USA.  Jensen was born in Denmark and served in the Kaiser’s army in Germany for three years before emigrating with his wife to Chicago in 1885.  While his first job there was picking up horse droppings, his second job was gardening…and the rest is history. 
In his lifetime, Jensen came to develop almost 600 landscapes “that brought the life force of the prairie into the city.” He designed public parks for the people, “belonging to the Democracy of the future” rather than the upper classes.   He helped establish many city parks, wild green spaces and forest preserves in Chicago, though he lamented he wasn’t able to establish a park for every neighborhood.

A friend and collaborator of Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who called him a “Native Nature Poet,” Jensen also landscaped wealthy estates, such that of Henry Ford, in the course of his prodigious career. He landscaped an ideal mile for the Lincoln Memorial Highway, created a landscape monument to Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL, and was instrumental in creating the Sand Dunes National Park, becoming known as the “Apostle of the Dunes.”

Jensen created council rings in parks, linking his Danish heritage with indigenous American tradition, and in his later years, again referring to his Danish origins, founded the Clearing Folk School on Grundtvigian principles at Ellison Bay, WI, on Lake Michigan.  The name “The Clearing” referred to clearing the mind (not the land) by bringing people close to nature, and finding harmony between man and nature.  The core belief that he tried to instill was that people need the living green or they will shrivel up and die.  The film is available on Amazon or at:

By Marilyn Jackson

Highlander Research and Education Center 
Continuing the Work in the Face of Tragedy

 The Highlander Center, a historic folk school founded in 1932, suffered the complete loss of their main administrative offices due to fire at the end of March.  This is not the first time that Highlander has suffered tragedies and with each, as with this recent fire, Highlander continues its work catalyzing organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South. Highlander’s unique approach of blending joyful folk traditions and community organizing has been changing lives for eighty-seven years. 
Myles Horton, a founder of the Highlander Folk School also helped to create the Folk Education Association of America (FEAA) as a founding board member.  In Myles Horton’s autobiography, The Long Haul, he shared the story of Highlander’s beginnings as well as the vision of a Highlander in every state.  Perhaps Myles saw the FEAA as a way of achieving this vision.  As new folk schools emerge across North America, the FEAA works to connect these schools to folk education’s philosophical roots, past achievements, and current innovations toward meeting community needs. Highlander provides a bright and powerful example of what can be done and what may be done through the modern North American folk school movement.
The Folk Education Association of America and its project participants of the Folk School Alliance stand with Highlander in their time of need. 
For more information regarding Highlander and its work…

News from the Board

Welcoming Two New New Board Members

Jerry Jackson: Prior to joining John C. Campbell Folk School as Executive Director in August 2017, Jerry was Deputy Director at Penland School of Crafts where he was responsible for operations and played a key role in the school’s $32 million capital campaign. He also served 11 years as curator and cultural arts director at the Rocky Mount Arts Center in Rocky Mount, NC. Jerry holds M.F.A. (2006) and B.F.A (1983) degrees in ceramics from East Carolina University, and A.A. (1980) degree from Wingate University.  Jerry is pleased to be joining the board, and happy for the opportunity to contribute to its mission of creating and strengthening a national network of folk schools in the USA.

Kimberly Coburn is an Atlanta-based writer, organizer, and educator. She has spearheaded several grassroots initiatives connecting individuals with the local food movement as well as serving on the board of local and national sustainability nonprofits. In 2013, Kimberly founded The Homestead Atlanta, an education initiative dedicated to fostering resilient communities through self-reliance and sustainability education. Kimberly is proud for The Homestead Atlanta to participate in the Folk School Alliance and looks forward to meeting other folk school facilitators. She is honored to have trained with Joanna Macy in The Work That Reconnects and to be named a National Arts Strategies Creative Community fellow. You can always find her exploring new crafts and championing the importance of a handmade life.

To see a working list of folk schools in North America, visit the Folk School Alliance's website at

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